Chris Stirewalt reports that Republicans are trying to convince West Virginia's senator-elect Joe Manchin to join the GOP:

Aside from his pick of committee assignments (likely the Energy and Natural Resources Committee), Manchin might get support for one of his pet projects - a plant to convert coal to diesel fuel that has stalled under Democratic leadership in Washington. [...]

But Team Manchin, so far, is sticking with the campaign line that the two-term conservative governor is heading to Washington to change the way his party operates and to look for chances to work on bipartisan projects.

"He was elected as a Democrat and he has to go to Washington as a Democrat to try, in good faith, to make the changes in the party he campaigned on," said one Manchin advisor. "Now, if that doesn't work and Democrats aren't receptive, I don't know what possibilities that leaves open."

Manchin proved during the primary that, like most politicians, there's a certain amount of flexibility to his principles. He went from saying he'd vote for Obamacare and praising Obama to saying that he would repeal some--maybe all--of the health care law, and he wouldn't say if he'd back Obama in 2012.

So what are the chances Manchin switches to the GOP?

I think Manchin is, at heart, a Democrat. But he's a savvy politician first and foremost. Whether Manchin continues to caucus with Democrats all depends on where his poll numbers are a year from now. Lucky for Manchin, the Senate Democrats' 53-seat majority gives them enough cushion to let Manchin vote with Republicans when he needs to for the next two years. If re-elected in 2012, Manchin would probably be free to vote with the Democratic leadership as often as Robert Byrd did, which is to say, almost always when it matters.

If, on the other hand, the Senate Democrats' agenda drags down Manchin's poll numbers and the GOP seems poised to take the Senate, there's a decent chance Manchin becomes a Republican before 2012.

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